What To Know Before Watching Movies About Eating Disorders

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
This story was originally published on June 28, 2017.
There's a new Netflix movie premiering next month called To The Bone that depicts one young woman's struggle with anorexia. The movie has already created quite a stir, and after the trailer was released, some people argued that it was triggering and glamorized the realities of eating disorders. If this argument sounds familiar, that's because it crops up almost every time there's a pop culture depiction of disordered eating — it's nearly impossible to tell stories about eating disorders without showcasing potential triggers.
But the creators of To The Bone are aware of these potential complications, and actively worked to represent eating disorders responsibly. In fact, the director, Marti Noxon, and the star, Lily Collins, both have a history of anorexia, so there are certain nuances to the experience that they wanted to be sure to portray accurately. Before the film aired, the cast released a PSA that addresses and dispels some common misconceptions about eating disorders. The film's creators also worked with Project HEAL, a non-profit organization that offers recovery support for people suffering from eating disorders, to ensure that they were approaching the topic with the right sensitivities.
"This is the first major motion picture on eating disorders where we knew that the filmmaker's heart — and Lily and Marti's hearts — were totally in the right place," says Kristina Saffran, co-founder and executive director of Project HEAL. "This gives us a huge opportunity to spark a national discussion on eating disorders in a way that has never been done before."
That said, the tricky thing about this film, and other eating disorder narratives, is that triggers are very subjective, and a person's reaction depends on where they are in their own personal struggle, says Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. While it can be valuable to share stories about personal struggles with eating disorders, those same details of disordered eating behaviors or graphic images of extreme weight loss can be potential triggers for some people, Mysko says.
The most important thing for filmmakers to do when dealing with content that could potentially be triggering is to make sure that there are resources for people to connect with help, Mysko says. "You can see from people's reaction to the trailer, and from what we heard from the community, that there is a potential for people to be upset by this," she says. "But also, if they're motivated to get help, that's an opportunity, and I wouldn't want that to be missed."
If you're planning to watch this movie, or any narrative that depicts an eating disorder, here is some advice from Mysko and Saffran that you might want to consider. The most important point? You don't have to watch anything that makes you feel vulnerable.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.